May 19, 1977: I am an impressionable graduating senior at the Riverdale Country School in New York—and a longtime subscriber to Rolling Stone. My copy arrives, and on the cover I see the fresh-faced Georgians Hamilton Jordan and Jody Powell, smiling at the world, positioned next to the headline: “White House Whiz Kids.” “I want to meet those guys,” I remember thinking. “Under 35 and in charge of the Free World!” Took my breath away then.
I still have that issue. And, as fate goes, as my life goes, I ended up meeting and working with Jordan at Whittle Communications in Knoxville, Tenn., when Chris Whittle hired him to work, putatively, on The Edison Project. Sadly, Jordan never really had a meaningful agenda nor a workable portfolio at Whittle, and he simply sat on Chris’s mantle for a year or two, collecting probably $1 million year, all so Chris could say, “Hamilton Jordan works for me.”
I was reminded of that Rolling Stone issue and how I felt back in 1977 after hearing last night of Powell’s death. We know now that Powell and Jordan ran a disheveled White House. There were tales of coke-snorting parties and alcohol binges; we know, too, that Jimmy Carter’s administration was, at best, ineffective, in so many areas. Carter, who ran as an “honest reformer,” never understood the inner workings of Washington, D.C., and little changed; in many ways, Carter’s failures paved the path for the Republican Revolution that overtook the country in 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan.
And, too, I was reminded of how I felt after talking to and working with Jordan: my teenage fascination was dashed. Jordan was smart—you could sense an edginess and a restless and curious mind. And yet I was so disappointed that Jordan never pushed for more; he was content to collect his paycheck as Chris Whittle’s poster boy. And I thought then: Here is a guy who has more power than me, and more influence and money, and, really, isn’t any more capable.
I am struck so often by the fickleness of the Gods, and the twists and turns of our personal and professional lives. David Byrne is always singing in the recesses of my mind, and I hear him: “And you may ask yourself—well, how did I get here?” And I hear him singing, “Same as it ever was… same as it ever was… same as it ever was….”